Report: States face daunting challenges to address COVID-19 school closures

April 8, 2020

As the COVID-19 crisis has caused nearly all K-12 public schools nationwide to suspend face-to-face instruction, millions of students are losing opportunities to learn and state governments are rushing to make alternative arrangements. Researchers from Michigan State University have compiled a comprehensive report to analyze state responses, finding that all states face daunting challenges.

According to the report, a collaboration between MSU’s Education Policy Innovation Collaborative and Institute for Public Policy and Social Research, the shortened school year is likely to reduce student learning, leaving students less prepared to advance to the next grade and will severely strain school planning, financing and student testing capabilities.

Empty classroom, with light filtering in through the windows.

“State and local policymakers will need to act quickly to help mitigate the academic consequences of the pandemic and extended periods out of school,” said Katharine Strunk, EPIC faculty director and professor of education policy. “By aggregating what states are doing, we hope to provide policymakers with a greater understanding of the options. Everyone is working as fast as they can and while every state faces different constraints and opportunities, it is always better to put our heads together to come up with the best solutions for our kids.”

The report found varied state actions:

  • Twenty-nine states are requiring districts to implement distance learning, but no state has distributed internet-enabled devices to all students. 
  • Thirty-three states provide some guidance on special education, but most leave it up to districts to comply with requirements for equal access.
  • Nineteen states have documented compensation guidelines for teachers and staff, but most have not provided new resources to implement distance learning.

The report also made recommendations for policymakers:

  • Extend the 2020-21 school year and/or lengthen school days so students can catch up on lost learning time.
  • States and districts should revise tests to assess students’ progress and identify different student learning levels at the start of the 2020-21 school year. These tests should be used to help educators provide targeted assistance to students and should not be used for accountability purposes.
  • States and districts should invest in professional development programs to help teachers and staff instruct returning students at different learning levels.
  • Online instruction may not be available or appropriate for all students so states will need to help districts fund alternative forms of distance learning through the mail or phone.

“States are facing unprecedented challenges educating students in the midst of a public health crisis, but they can learn from each other,” said Matt Grossmann, IPPSR director and associate professor of political science. “We hope to provide actionable information to facilitate decisions despite the need for quick action.”

The report will continue to be updated. Sarah Reckhow, associate professor of political science, also contributed to the report.

This story, written by Kim Ward, was originally posted on MSU Today.

Guidance for school leaders

The MSU Office of K-12 Outreach and K-12 Educational Administration Programs have provided a message of guidance to school leaders, particularly those in Michigan, during the COVID-19 crisis.